Everyone I know who’s remodeled or built car washes has stories of what can go wrong. Big problems like having to repour a conveyor trench. Or minor issues, like the guy who once called me to ship him a set of two-inch blocks to raise the driver’s side of all his equipment down the tunnel. It appears the contractor he hired to repair a pitted passenger side floor thought a two-inch-thick concrete slab down one side of the tunnel was a good solution to the problem.

There’s a lot of growth in our industry. Many operators are remodeling sites to refresh the experience for their customers. Others, like my son, are building new sites from the ground up to strengthen their position in the local market. And with so much growth and opportunity, one thing in short supply and high demand is builders and experts to help you get to the next level.

Support Foundation

Before you embark on your next project, you need more than planning what you want to do. The success of any car wash project hinges on assembling a proficient group of contractors, architects, engineers, and equipment suppliers to work as a team. The choice of your team structure and the partners involved is crucial, as it dictates the project’s efficiency and the seamless coordination of efforts towards a singular goal. The bigger the scope of work, the more enormous the potential for miscommunication.

It is paramount that any contractor, architect, civil engineer, or specialized tradesperson you consider for your project have direct experience in constructing or remodeling car washes. Beyond demanding references, conducting thorough follow-ups on these references is vital. Inspect a car wash they’ve previously worked on in person, even if it means traveling.

Even seasoned car wash operators can mistakenly believe they can compensate for a contractor’s lack of specific knowledge. This assumption is misleading — in fact, extensive experience in car washing might lead to overlooking crucial requirements they consider “common sense.” The operator dealing with the two-inch slab I mentioned before is a case in point; they had built dozens of locations, yet this oversight occurred.

Surround yourself with people who speak car wash.

Anticipate and Plan for Hurdles

It’s not uncommon for a general contractor to overlook the car wash experience of individual tradespeople working on your project. Ensure your agreement allows you the leeway to review and approve the qualifications of the workforce.

While it may be necessary to work with some staff lacking car wash-specific experience, evaluating their qualifications ahead of time enables you to plan accordingly for increased supervision when needed.

Never assume anything — even that a contractor has the tools to do the job. Renting construction equipment for a particular job is common, so ensure the contract specifies whether the equipment will be rented or not.

Ensure you get lien releases on any materials that contractors will purchase or rent. Otherwise, if a contractor fails to pay their bills, the supplier might attempt to place a lien on your property. This isn’t hypothetical — it happens, and it’s your job to ensure it doesn’t happen to you.

Don’t be shy about hiring a lawyer to review your contract. Legal assistance can prevent choosing between a significant financial loss and construction delays. Aim for a contract that defers the final 10 percent of the project payment until 30 days after completion, ensuring you have the means to resolve any lien issues that arise after you open or reopen.

Choose the Best Construction Method

While traditional block-and-stick construction remains popular, the advantages of prefabricated structures — such as their aesthetic appeal, functionality, ease of maintenance, and faster construction timelines — cannot be ignored.

However, opting for a prefab structure doesn’t require less planning. On the contrary, these buildings require ordering well in advance and a fixed delivery date. Keep in mind that groundwork and conveyor trench construction remain one of the most challenging tasks of any project.

A well-planned prefab structure can be constructed quicker and is eligible for depreciation benefits, provided its service life exceeds the duration of your financing agreement, a common financial requirement.

Prefab buildings do not remove the need for a general contractor. Thinking that a prefab building will simplify construction so much that you can leverage your extensive experience to act as your own GC is a colossal mistake. You’ll never be able to have a constant presence during construction or remodeling. Absence during critical phases can lead to frequent and costly mistakes, outweighing potential savings.

Build the Right Team

Choosing between hiring an architect and a GC separately or opting for a design-build firm that offers both services under one umbrella is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. The design-build approach is appealing due to its potential for clear-cut costs and the convenience of a single point of contact.

I’ve found this model to result in a project that adheres closer to timelines and budget forecasts. Nonetheless, expertise in car wash construction should never be compromised in favor of simplicity.

A civil engineer will determine if your site plan complies with all setbacks, driveway, retention, and other requirements. Every project will have a civil engineer, but different municipalities require special engineering assessments based on specific permitting requirements.

Find out who they are up-front and contract their services before you start any site planning, not after. For example, it’s common to contract a geotechnical engineer in some regions to test bore the soil and ensure that your site can support a car wash. If you find a problem before you apply for permits, you can easily adjust your site plan.

If you delay, you risk facing costly solutions to rectify an unstable soil problem where you plan to put your building.

Be sure to verify your team’s qualifications and insurance thoroughly. Merely seeing a decal or signage on a contractor’s vehicle indicating they are licensed and insured is insufficient. Conduct thorough verifications of their status to avoid surprises, such as uncovering expired licenses or insurance after they topple a light pole and total a nearby car (true story).

Inspect Frequently

Mistakes are inevitable. When you find one, ask yourself these two questions: will it affect service quality or how you operate the site, and will it affect the quality of your customer’s experience visiting the wash? When the answer is no to both, you will let your GC know about your concern, but you may choose to let it go. Your GC will owe you one, which may come in handy.

Securing a reliable GC with car wash construction experience might be challenging, but don’t cut corners here. Ensure you speak with and visit each reference they provide and verify claims regarding equipment ownership before finalizing any agreements.

Patience in finding a reputable GC with the requisite experience can often mean the difference between a smooth project and one fraught with delays and complications. Rushing by selecting the wrong GC can lead to mistakes that delay your project or, worse, leave you with a few stories of your own to tell.

Good luck and good washing!

Joining the company in 2000, Anthony Analetto serves as the president of Sonny’s CarWash Equipment Division. In this role, Anthony leads the innovation of new products to drive client success and oversees all operations, engineering, and supply chain management. Washing cars for more than 30 years, Anthony was the director of operations for a 74-location national car wash chain prior to joining the company.